Bruce to learn Villa fate as betting suspended on Henry’s arrival
‘The new owners might want to have their own man in’
Thierry Henry is being tipped to replace Steve Bruce as Aston Villa manager. Photograph: Sergio Perez/Reuters
Steve Bruce is scheduled to meet Aston Villa’s new owners on Wednesday when he should discover if they are minded to back him or sack him.
As speculation mounted that Thierry Henry is set to replace Bruce, with rumours the former Arsenal and France striker had already reached a “verbal” agreement, bookmakers suspended betting on Henry moving into the Villa manager’s office.
Bruce prepared his team for Wednesday night’s friendly against West Ham but whether the man who led Villa to a Championship play-off final defeat against Fulham in May will be in the “home” dug-out at Walsall’s Banks’s Stadium remains to be seen.
Bruce has made it clear he hopes to persuade the Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris and the American financier Wes Edens to retain him, but he does not seem overly optimistic.
While initial, indirect, contact with the men set to rescue Villa from the financial plight prompted by their failure to secure a Premier League place has been encouraging, Bruce is far too experienced to take anything for granted. “Whatever state this club is in, I think it needs me,” said the 57-year-old before a meeting with his new bosses planned before the Henry rumours surfaced. “The new owners might want to have their own man in. All the indications are that this is not the case but until I get in front of them I won’t know. I hope they give me the opportunity but I wouldn’t be surprised if it isn’t going to be that way because, as we’ve seen many times, the new broom always sweeps clean.”
Bruce acknowledged he was so shocked he “blurted out” his coffee over breakfast this week on reading newspaper reports about Henry’s supposed move. With the change in ownership so recent, senior Villa executives remain similarly in the dark about the 40-year-old’s rumoured arrival in the Midlands.
It was only last Friday that news emerged of the company co-owned by Sawiris and Edens purchasing a majority stake in Villa with the former owner, Dr Tony Xia, who had considered replacing Bruce after the play-off final failure, remaining co-chairman.
From struggling to pay a tax bill due at the end of this month, the club’s sole worry seemed to be rectifying the breaches of Financial Fair Play regulations occasioned by their lavish Championship spending.
Villa fans are divided as to whether Bruce should remain at the helm after his failure to win automatic promotion with the Championship’s most expensively assembled side last term.
He inherited a troubled squad on taking charge in October 2016 and has subsequently transformed what was termed a “toxic” dressing room. He acknowledges he should have masterminded what would have been a fifth promotion to the Premier League in May but was distracted by the death of both his parents in brutally swift succession last spring.
Henry’s potential arrival – reportedly with the Frenchman’s former Arsenal teammate Steve Bould as his number two – has met with a mixed response.
While appointing a coach who served as one of Roberto Martínez’s assistants during Belgium’s recent World Cup campaign in Russia may create headlines, memories of Villa’s road to 2016 relegation under another Frenchman mentored by Arsène Wenger remain raw.
Perhaps Bruce should remind his new employers of Rémi Garde’s turbulent tenure and inquire whether hiring the significantly more inexperienced Henry is worth the risk.